The NFL does an awful lot of tributes. For a product with such mass appeal as pro football, you would expect that. This weekend, the league will celebrate Veterans Day. Actually, they have the whole month of November marked to honor veterans, kicking off the "Salute To Service" campaign. You would think all the tributes might give fans some fatigue, especially us cynical Generation Xers, but the NFL manages to pull it off without the overpowering smell of marketing or the vaguest hint of politics.
Wait, cynical about honoring the men and women who serve this country? Not at all. However, paying tribute to military has unfortunately been too often seen as an easy marketing ploy, a responsive cord that nobody can refuse. Even worse, political absolutism conflates honoring the country's troops and patriotism with partisan identity, as though we might be so easily defined by which magnet we attach to the back of our car.
Professional sports are more popular than ever. Look no further than the television ratings for the NFL and most other sports. The most logical explanation has to do with the recession. People have less money, so they spend more time with less expensive pursuits. Tough to overlook that, but I think it misses something bigger.
On another level, football and other sports appeal to us because it offers a refuge from the fractious nature of things today. Over the space of a three hour game, we get to rise above the demarcation; we get the chance to connect with part of something bigger, even if it just a football team.
When the NFL opened the season concurrent with the tenth anniversary of 9/11, many wondered whether or not the league could pull off an appropriate tribute. Never in my scant three decades have professional sports offered such a powerful moment of transcendence as it did when the NFL and MLB started back up after a hiatus following the attacks 10 years ago. I never once wondered if the NFL could pull off a remembrance this year.
Stripping out the gimmicks and the jingoism, the NFL will give Veterans Day a similar treatment; they always do. Being the most popular sport in the country allows the NFL to reach across party lines, ideologies to momentarily unify an audience of tens of millions.
Of course, the NFL can only do so much. It's up to fans like you and me to take that tribute one step further. Today, less than one percent of the population actually serves in the military. It makes it all too easy for those of us who have not served to forget the sacrifices being made by so few. As for the other 364 days a year, follow the NFL's lead. Think of the sacrifices made by veterans today and from generations past. More importantly, rise above the divisiveness, think of your fellow football fans and commit yourself to being part of the greater good.